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Yankees work to get Alex Rodriguez's 3,000th hit ball back from fan

NEW YORK -- The pursuit of the ball hit by Alex Rodriguez for his 3,000th hit has reached all the way up to the owner's box at Yankee Stadium.

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner authorized his top executives to negotiate with the fan who caught Rodriguez's 3K ball, sources told ESPN New York on Tuesday. The gesture by Steinbrenner is another example of the thawing of the once-tense relations between the franchise and Rodriguez.

"I'm flattered," Rodriguez said.

Team president Randy Levine and chief operating officer Lonn Trost have had talks with Zack Hample, a 37-year-old fan who claims to have caught more than 8,000 foul balls in his life. Hample recovered Rodriguez's 3,000th hit, a solo home run against the Tigers on Friday, after several fans could not make a play on the shot to right field off Justin Verlander.

Hample said that after the Yankees' head of security, Eddie Fastook, offered some items for the ball, he declined, and then met with Levine and Trost in Levine's office.

Levine had asked Steinbrenner if the Yankees had an interest in pursuing Rodriguez's ball. Steinbrenner said they did, but a deal was not struck on Friday.

On Monday, the two sides met again. Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo said "substantial progress" had been made in finding common ground with Hample, who works with a charitable organization called Pitch In For Baseball. There could be a charity component in a possible deal. Hample said Tuesday that he still could just sell it outright. He declined to discuss how much money the Yankees were offering.

Throughout the chaotic Biogenesis saga that led to Rodriguez's year-long suspension for his involvement with performance enhancing drugs, Steinbrenner has never publicly wavered in not wanting to cut Rodriguez loose. If the Yankees had done that, Steinbrenner would have been on the hook for the remaining three years and $60-plus million on Rodriguez's contract.

The Yankees largely -- and perhaps exclusively -- took Rodriguez back this season because of that contract. Steinbrenner stated that he believed Rodriguez could be an "asset," and thus far he has been just that. Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July, entered Tuesday night hitting .281 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs.

The Yankees still disagree on the value of his milestone marketing agreement, signed in 2007. The deal could be worth up to $30 million for Rodriguez. It called for a $6 million bonus for reaching certain milestone home run numbers that the Yankees could then market.

The first one was for tying Willie Mays' 660 homers for fourth on the all-time list. The Yankees claim it is their right, not obligation, to trigger the marketing deal. Rodriguez has not defined his position. An arbitrator is likely to settle the dispute in the offseason.

For now, though, the Yankees are on Rodriguez's side in pursuit of his 3,000th hit ball.

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